24 July 2019
Law Society president Ambrose Lam expressed support for Beijing's controversial white paper on one country, two systems. Photo: HKEJ
Law Society president Ambrose Lam expressed support for Beijing's controversial white paper on one country, two systems. Photo: HKEJ

Solicitors send signal to Beijing on professional independence

Solicitors in Hong Kong showed their solidarity on Thursday night as they cast their votes to say no to Beijing’s intervention in the city’s legal sector.

In a major defeat for the central government, the Law Society passed a no-confidence motion on its chairman, Ambrose Lam for his pro-Beijing remarks.

The result proves that legal professionals know the importance of upholding the core values of fairness, justice and openness, with the sector under threat from political intervention from the north.

An independent legal and judicial system has been the key pillar supporting the one country, two systems framework.

This is what differentiates Hong Kong from other mainland cities.

Lam has been under fire since June when, speaking on behalf of the society, he expressed support for Beijing’s controversial white paper on one country, two systems.

He praised the Communist Party of China for leading the mainland into a new era.

He supported the view that the judiciary in Hong Kong is part of the administration, triggering the no-confidence vote.

The Law Society has been playing a minor role in political issues given solicitors are more realistic about the money they could make from clients, especially state-owned enterprises.

Some political observers expressed caution about the vote given that lawyers could put their business interest before their professionalism.

The voting, however, surprised the political and legal sectors, as well as the central government liaison office given the state machinary has been busy in the past few weeks to ensure the no-confidence vote would not be passed.

Market speculation is that well-known law firms’ Beijing offices did receive a phone call from Beijing officials seeking support for Lam.

In addition, partners in local law firms asked their employees to hand their proxy ballots to the seniors.

Political observers believed that Beijing has underestimated local solicitors’ commitment to defending the independence of the profession, as well as overestimated the economic value of Chinese firms to the sector.

Such intervention led to lawyers deciding to attend the society’s emergency meeting and cast their votes in person to avoid the proxy ballots distorting the true opinion among members.

Beijing sees the legal and judicial sector as a major challenge to the Communist Party’s bid to fully gain power in the special administrative region.

Hong Kong judicial independence will prevent political intervention, so some court judgments may not be to Beijing’s liking.

The Bar Association, comprising barristers in Hong Kong, has been standing on the front line to defend the rule of law in the face of the Communist Party’s challenge.

Law Society member Kevin Yam, who initiated the motion, said the outcome shows the legal profession’s determination to safeguard the rule of law, judicial independence and political neutrality of professionals.

It is also a signal to Beijing’s top leaders that they may need to rethink their policy to deal with the city’s professional groups.

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EJ Insight writer

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